Endometrial cancer starts in endometrial cells that line the inside of the uterus. The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Treatment may include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Endometrial Cancer Overview
Endometrial Cancer Symptoms
The most common symptom of endometrial cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. It may start as a watery, blood-streaked flow that gradually contains more blood. After menopause, any vaginal bleeding is abnormal.
Common symptoms of endometrial cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting or discharge
- Pain or difficulty when emptying the bladder
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the pelvic area
These symptoms may be caused by endometrial cancer or by other health problems. Contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Endometrial Cancer Causes
- Obesity. Women who are obese have a greater chance of developing endometrial cancer.
- Reproductive and menstrual history. Women are at increased risk of endometrial cancer if any of the following holds true for them:
- History of taking estrogen alone: The risk of endometrial cancer is higher among women who used estrogen without progesterone as menopausal hormone therapy for many years.
- History of taking tamoxifen: Women who took the drug tamoxifen to prevent or treat breast cancer are at increased risk of endometrial cancer.
- Family health history. Women with a mother, sister or daughter with endometrial cancer are at increased risk of developing the disease.
Endometrial Cancer Diagnosis
If you have symptoms that suggest endometrial cancer, your doctor will try to find out what’s causing the problems.
You may have a physical exam and blood tests, along with one or more of the following tests:
- Pelvic exam: Your doctor checks your uterus, vagina,and nearby tissues for any lumps or changes in shape or size.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound device uses sound waves to take pictures of your uterus and nearby tissues. The picture can show a endometrial tumor.
- Biopsy: A sample of tissue from the suspicious area or lump is removed so it can be examined for cancer.
If cancer is found, the pathologist studies tissue samples from the uterus under a microscope to learn the grade of the tumor. The grade tells how much the tumor tissue differs from normal endometrial tissue. The grade may suggest how fast the tumor is likely to grow.
Tumors with higher grades tend to grow faster and be more likely to spread than those with lower grades. Doctors use tumor grade along with other factors to suggest treatment options.
Living With Endometrial Cancer
Endometrial Cancer Treatments
Treatment options for people with endometrial cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. You may receive more than one type of treatment.
Surgery is the most common treatment for women with endometrial cancer. You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery (hysterectomy) and which may be right for you.
The surgeon usually removes the uterus cervix, and nearby tissues. The nearby tissues may include:
- Fallopian tubes
- Nearby lymph nodes
- Part of the vagina
Radiation therapy is an option for women with all stages of endometrial cancer. It may be used before or after surgery. For women who can’t have surgery for other medical reasons, radiation therapy may be used instead to destroy cancer cells in the uterus. Women with cancer that invades tissue beyond the uterus may have radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells in the treated area only.
Doctors use two types of radiation therapy to treat endometrial cancer. Some women receive both types:
- External radiation therapy: A large machine directs radiation at your pelvis or other areas with cancer.
- Internal radiation therapy (also called brachytherapy): A narrow cylinder is placed inside your vagina, and a radioactive substance is loaded into the cylinder.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used after surgery to treat endometrial cancer that has an increased risk of returning after treatment. For example, endometrial cancer that is a high grade or is Stage II, III, or IV may be more likely to return.
Chemotherapy may be given to women whose endometrial cancer can’t be completely removed by surgery. For advanced cancer, it may be used alone or with radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy for endometrial cancer is usually given by vein (intravenous). It’s usually given in cycles. Each cycle has a treatment period followed by a rest period.
The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for each woman. After a hysterectomy, most women go home in a couple days, but some women leave the hospital the same day. You’ll probably return to your normal activities within 4 to 8 weeks after surgery.
Endometrial Cancer Other Treatments
The search for a cure for cancer is an ongoing, constant battle. Clinical trials are the basis upon which new treatments and medications are proven to help the fight against cancer, or if researchers should pursue another tactic. The advancement of medicine depends on willing and able cancer patients to volunteer for experimental treatments so that future generations will have proven and effective cures. Not every patient with cancer will be eligible for a clinical trial, as the scientific method needs specific patients with specific types of cancers. However, patients who are selected for trials may benefit from being at the cutting edge of new research, and gain time they otherwise might not have had.
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health has a comprehensive database of over 10,000 ongoing clinical trials that both help advance medicine and help patients.